The CDC recently published an article written by the California Dept. of Public Health analyzing risk factors for coronary heart disease (CHD) in Californians. The article stated what we all knew already: we’re not very healthy…and it’s mostly due to our lifestyle choices. “Our results show that adults in California with CHD are engaging in behaviors that put them at an increased risk of illness and death,” the article pronounced. Big surprise, right?
Obesity, diabetes, CHD – These are all chronic illnesses which are responsible for an enormous amount of health care costs (the study cites that, in 2009 alone, $165 billion was spent on costs associated to CHD) and deaths (CHD is the #1 killer in America) each year. The mutual characteristic? All are illnesses associated with lifestyle. And all are becoming increasingly common and relevant in todays living conditions.
So, I ask, why? Why is it that medicine has been improving and we can no longer blame longer life span for the prevalence of chronic diseases yet chronic killers are becoming more and more common?
This article by the California Dept. of Public Health points towards lifestyle choices and behaviors as a likely culprit. I will go go one step further and say that there is no doubt in my mind that the growing trend in prevalence of chronic diseases is a direct result of lifestyle choices. Namely, poor lifestyle choices.
The article concludes by recommending that “primary care physicians should be encouraged to recommend evidence-based cardiac rehabilitation that has been designed to specifically target the health behaviors of [CHD] patients.” Don’t get me wrong, I think that is a great recommendation. But I feel that the article is missing the bigger point altogether. Why don’t we give these people (and by “these people” I mean every American) the resources to not be CHD patients in the first place? Why don’t we do a better job educating the people of this country about proper lifestyle behaviors? And why not implement legislation that cares for the health of the people who inhabit this nation rather than legislation more concerned with lining the pockets of big business men and politicians? Unfortunately we haven’t had the good fortune shared by many other nations around the globe to have a history much deeper than ours, which has allowed these nations to establish a healthy tradition of lifestyle behaviors. This, for those of us in the U.S., is a cultural problem.
Because of this, we must educate. We must educate people about lifestyle choices and we must give them the tools and the resources they need to make healthy choices. It must become a way of life. As of now, our health care system (as the quote above indicates) is more concerned with treating symptoms than combatting the underlying issues (there is much more money in treating symptoms). This too is a cultural problem. So, it is my belief that it is not the health care system which is failing (although it is) or the political system which is failing (although it is) but the culture which is failing. If, in attempting to solve the growing concern over chronic illnesses, we attempt to fix all that is wrong with the health care system we are again doing nothing but treating symptoms rather than combatting the underlying issue (although that does not mean the poor state of our health care system should not be addressed). What needs the most work, however, is not the individual systems within the subculture of America but the very mindset of the American people, from the liquor store clerk to the white house representative. It is a paradigm shift in American culture. A new way of thinking. This must change first. What’s at stake is the well-being and the future of every American citizen…
You can read the whole article by the California Dept. of Public Health here: “Lifestyle behavior associated with secondary prevention of coronary heart disease among California adults”
Bellow A, Epstein JF, Parikh-Patel A. Lifestyle behaviors associated with secondary prevention of coronary heart disease among California adults. Prev Chronic Dis 2011;8(2).